Chapter XXI

Quits!

As Peter feared, somebody in his establishment said “something.” Belphegor’s price suddenly went from ten to one to five to one. The favourite stood at three to one. On the morning of the third day after the trial spin, Peter had a visit from Dan Westoby. The trainer received the bookmaker civilly but coldly.

“I’ve called to see you, Gumley, about that tricky horse of yours, Belphegor,” said Westoby, going straight to the point, as was his wont. “Some six months ago you offered him to me at my own price.”

“Aye, and you refused a deal.”

“Well, I’ve altered my mind. Name your figure.”

“Can’t be done, Mr. Westoby. The matter’s out of my hands.”

“What do you mean?”

“I mean that I’ve sold the horse.”

“You might have given me the chance, anyway,” said Westoby, his brows contracting.

“You had the chance, Sir, and you let it slip.”

Westoby inwardly was raging, but his habitual self-command concealed any outward expression beyond a tightening of the thin lips.

“Who’s bought the brute?” said he, after a pause.

“Man named Humphries took a fancy to him, and naming me a fair price, I closed with his offer.”

“Humph. Who’s this Humphries? Where’s he to be found?”

“That’s my business, Mr. Westoby.”

“Very well. I’ll make it mine, too.”

“You can do as you like about it.”

Dan Westoby said no more. The parting between him and Peter verged upon the hostile.

The bookmaker had been ill-served by George Godfree. Of course there was a woman at the bottom of the matter​—​Violetta, though in a roundabout way. The £50 which Godfree had extracted from Westoby for telling him where Violetta might be found was the Honourable George’s undoing.

The trial spin had come off on the very night George received his instructions and the cheque. Godfree had got on the track of Parsons, who in some mysterious way had had the tip concerning Belphegor’s wonderful running. Parsons parted with the secret for a fiver, and told Godfree something besides which had he but known was worth as much more. Godfree could not see that the information would lose anything by his keeping it to himself for twenty-four hours, and burning for a night’s debauch went off to London for that purpose.

Full of importance, George, saturated with champagne and brandy, let out to his pals a good deal of what he knew, and in a wonderfully short time the result was seen in the rapid shortening of the odds, greatly to Westoby’s bewilderment. Godfree’s night of dissipation required a day for recovery, and forty-eight hours went over before he saw Westoby and told him what had happened. But he said not a word about the other item of gossip which Parsons had mentioned. This item was that Belphegor had been in Violetta’s possession for a short time. Parsons could not explain why, but he imagined that Violetta, having succeeded in soothing the horse’s savage temper, had had him in her keeping to complete the cure. The important fact that he did not know, was that she had bought the horse.

Westoby was maddened by the news. Violetta had completely mystified him. He had never forgotten her success as a “mascotte.” He had found out that she had backed Killarney for the Two Thou., and he had no doubt she would follow her luck and back him also for the Derby. Some curious superstitious feeling had led him to alter his tactics, and he had involved himself heavily in his support of the favourite. Violetta had once brought off a coup in his favour. Why shouldn’t she do it again?

The unexpected issue of the trial spin had altered everything. If Belphegor won the Derby he was a broken man. In addition to backing Killarney, he had accepted the odds against Belphegor, and he stood to lose both ways if Belphegor won. The Derby Day was so close that there was little chance of his hedging successfully. The racing public had gone mad over Killarney and Belphegor, and would hardly look at any of the other entries.

Westoby returned to Normanhurst much perturbed, even agitated. It was a new sensation for a man who had always believed in his iron nerves. For the first time in his life his brain refused to grapple with the complicated process of “making a book.” Moreover, he was beset by the constantly recurring image of Violetta Vaughan. She intruded into his thoughts. He took up his betting book, and threw it down impatiently. He glanced through the latest racing odds in that morning’s sporting paper, the figures danced before his eyes.

“Curse the jade,” he muttered. “Who the devil is she acting for? Norman or Verschoyle?”

Westoby had been the clever show mathematical boy of his grammar school. He was the “lightning calculator,” who astonished the examiners. He had on leaving school entered a stockbroker’s office and was found a treasure by his employer. He could reel off the fluctuating quotations of the day with an accuracy and a nicety of fractional details truly marvellous. His cold temperament remained undisturbed by women. But there must have been something in his frigidity and air of composed masterfulness which had their influence on the emotional Alice Forbes, the stockbroker’s daughter. He cared nothing for her, but he saw his way to his own advancement if the father consented to receive him as a son-in-law.

Westoby had no notion of a secret marriage, and he coolly broached the subject to the stockbroker. The latter was highly indignant, and informed his presumptuous clerk that he intended his daughter to marry Sir John Norman, one of his best clients​—​indeed, the matter was practically settled. He wound up by suggesting the advisability of Westoby transferring his services elsewhere to prevent embarrassment.

Westoby, of course, knew Norman and had always disliked him for no reasons other than envy and antagonism. Norman’s easy well-bred manner was such a contrast to his own. Added to this, was the conviction that he could never acquire the air of a gentleman.

He went out of Forbes’ office hating Norman with all the venom of a malignant nature. He made a lucky “plunge,” became a member of the Stock Exchange​—​and then his luck turned. He was “hammered,” turned outside broker, engaged in some shady transaction, vanished for a year or two and reappeared as a successful “bookie.” Eventually, as we know, his chance came to revenge himself upon Sir John Norman.

Abstemious by temperament and system, he had not the relief in stimulants which on occasions most men seek. Teetotalism may tend to affect the brain as injuriously as excess. Westoby thought that abstention from alcohol kept his mind clear. He forgot that the mind depends upon the nerves. Just now his nervous system was in a tumult, and he paced the room a prey to intense vexation and chagrin.

A rap came at the door. A servant entered. A lady had called, said the maid. She wanted to see Mr. Westoby on business.

“Who is she? What’s her name?” he rapped out.

“Wouldn’t tell me, sir. I asked her.”

Westoby was silent for a moment. He decided that whoever the visitor might be he would see her. She would distract his thoughts and that was what at that moment he wanted most.

The servant ushered in the visitor​—​Violetta.

Westoby stared at her blankly. She looked infinitely more attractive in her well-fitting sober toned dress than she did in the butterfly costume suitable to Monte Carlo.

“You,” he faltered. “Pray sit down.”

Scarcely knowing what he said or did, he moved a chair towards her. She took no notice.

“The business that has brought me here, Mr. Westoby, won’t take two minutes. I want to return the £250 I received from you at Monte Carlo. Will you count the notes and see that they are correct?”

“No, I won’t,” he returned, brusquely. “The money’s yours. It was fairly earned. I’ll not take it.”

“That’s a matter of indifference to me. I shall leave it all the same. I wish you good morning.”

She laid the notes on the table, and turned to quit the room.

“Stop,” he shouted. “You’re not going like that. You’ve no right. I’ve done you no injury. I’ve never offended you so far as I can tell. If I have, I apologise. Just think. We parted as strangers, but now that I know who you are and you know me, the thing’s different. I want an explanation.”

“Of what?”

“Why you bring me these notes with an air as though they were contaminated.”

“It’s my whim. I’ve nothing more to say,” she returned steadily.

“But I have, and you must listen. It’s only fair.”

A qualm of conscience seized Violetta. There was reason in what he said. He had done her no wrong, but she hated to be under an obligation to him.

“Do you remember the offer of partnership I made you at Monte Carlo?”

“Yes. My answer was no.”

“Exactly, but at that time you did not know me. It did not occur to you that this place​—​Normanhurst​—​was mine.”

“What of that?”

“I offer it to you now. I should fancy it was preferable to the Owl’s Nest. Aren’t you tired of that weak-kneed Norman?”

He thought to surprise her. She heard him quite composedly.

“May I ask you what you mean?”

“Bah! You know quite well. From what I hear, you’ve thrown him over for Lord Verschoyle. Sort of thing one would expect. Here, as my wife, you’d be free from scandal.”

“I’m a topic of scandal, am I?”

He laughed derisively.

“How can you escape being so​—​with your record?”

“And who knows what you’re pleased to call my record beyond you and George Godfree? If there’s any scandal about me it’s been spread by one or the other, possibly by both. I’m glad to learn this. If ever anything concerning myself comes to my ears I need not trouble to ask who are the scandal mongers.”

His white face broke into pale yellow patches. His cold eyes suddenly blazed.

“I’ve not said a word about you, but I could. I was not deaf to the gossip at Monte Carlo. Personally, I don’t care a hang what character you bear. What you’re doing now​—​mascotte to the backers of horses as you were a mascotte to gamblers​—​doesn’t trouble me excepting that I want you for my mascotte. You were once, you know, and why not again? I’ll swear I paid you on a much more liberal scale than either Norman or Verschoyle may be doing now. I won’t touch this money. Put it in your pocket. It’ll buy you a few diamonds.”

The insinuation was gross​—​it was unpardonable. For the first time Violetta showed emotion. Her lips quivered slightly and then became firm. Grasping the notes he had pushed towards her, she tore them across and across, flung the fragments contemptuously in his face, and without a word walked out of the room. It was as though she had slashed him with a whip.